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Pages of a Forbidden Tome 


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Pages of a Forbidden Tome 

Written By: Sean Michael Ragan 



• Books (1) 

• Coffee maker (1) 

• Heat gun (1) 

• Laser printer (1) 

• Metal tray (1) 

• Paintbrush m 


Printer paper (1) 

• Coffee (1) 

• Water (1) 
Ammonium chloride (1) 
Paper towels (1) 

• Wood (Flat piece) 
or cardboard 


They could be from The Necronomicon, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, or simply Poe's "quaint 
and curious volume," but everybody needs at least a few tattered leaves of ancient mind- 
blasting arcanum lying around to impress guests. Especially around Halloween. 

This tutorial presents an easy method for producing weathered "antiqued" paper with burned 
edges. The trick of soaking white paper in coffee or tea to give it an old, yellowed look is 
very familiar, but the process for selectively burning the edges of the paper is something I 
discovered on my own. A simple and safe chemical treatment is used to selectively char the 
page, only where it has been applied, upon mild heat treatment. 

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Pages of a Forbidden Tome 

Step 1 — Create and print your art 

• Print your art using a laser printer, 
not inkjet. Most inkjet inks are 
water soluble and will not stand up 
to the water-based solutions used 
in this tutorial. 

• The artwork I used is from 
an imagining of Lovecraft's 
Necronomicon by French artist 
Philippe Druillet that appeared in 
the October 1979 issue of Heavy 
Metal magazine, a copy of which I 
own. If you can't get your hands on 
the same magazine, there are other 
good sources for faux-arcana 

• Dover has a clip-art collection 
called Magic and Mystical 
Symbols that's chock full of 
appropriate art. 

• The Howard Phillips Lovecraft 
Historical Society has some 
Necronomicon pages for sale as 
well as some great online 
resources for making prop 
documents, including a package 
of free fonts. 

• If you're really into it, 
Propnomicon is an entire blog 
dedicated to reproduction 
artifacts from the Cthulhu 

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Pages of a Forbidden Tome 

Step 2 — Soak the pages 

• Make strong coffee using about 6 
oz of ground beans in 2 cups of 
water. Let it stand overnight, if 

• Pour off the coffee into a shallow 
baking sheet and then soak your 
laser-printed pages in it one at a 
time, for five minutes each. 

• Remove each page from the coffee 
bath and, without giving too much 
time for the coffee to drip off, 
couch it between two layers of 
paper towels under a piece of 
cardboard weighted with a stack of 

• Allow the pages to dry in this 
manner for 2 hours before 

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Pages of a Forbidden Tome 

Step 3 — Apply the burn treatment 

,.-■' Jr.--' ■ ■/-■'-} 


• The pages do not have to be 
bone-dry to go on. 

• Using a brush, apply a saturated 
solution of ammonium chloride to 
the edges of each page where the 
burn effect is desired. 

• You may wish to add a drop 
or two of food coloring to the 
solution to make it easy to see 
where the treatment has been 
applied and where it has not. Any 
coloration thus imparted to the 
paper should burn away in the next 

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Pages of a Forbidden Tome 

Step 4 — Heat 

• You don't have to let the 
solution dry before 

• Working over a heat-stable surface 
and with good ventilation, heat the 
edges of the page with a heat gun 
on the high setting. This will drive 
off any remaining moisture quite 
rapidly, and you may want to 
weight the page down in the middle 
to keep it from blowing around in 
the air blast. 

• Depending on the strength of your 
heat gun, it may take a minute or 
so before you begin to see an 
effect, but when you do it will be 
obvious. The paper will char rapidly 
just in those areas where the 
ammonium chloride has been 

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Pages of a Forbidden Tome 

Step 5 — Remove burned areas 



• The charred areas of the page will be dry and crumbly and should flake off with mild 
pressure from the fingers. 

• Work your way around the page, making sure at least to remove all the straight-cut edges 
of the original sheet, and also to leave some burned bits behind to make it clear that your 
forbidden tome was rescued at the last moment from the cleansing flames of the 
Inquisition's pyres. 

The charring solution works because of the tendency of ammonium chloride to decompose, 
when heated, to give ammonia gas and hydrochloric acid. The ammonia gas evaporates into the 
atmosphere, leaving behind strong hydrochloric acid, which is what actually chars the page. This 
sounds nastier than it is, in practice. Prudence dictates erring on the side of caution and always 
working with strong ventilation, but, frankly, I did this in my closed kitchen with the air 
conditioner on and didn't notice much more than a slight burning smell. 

An easy way to prepare a saturated solution of ammonium chloride (or any salt, really), is to 
dump a bunch of it into a jar and add water, but not enough to dissolve it all. So you end up with 
a layer of solid at the bottom of the jar, all the time. The liquid layer on top will always be 
saturated with the salt no matter what the ambient temperature may be. 

I'm totally thrilled with my results, but if I were to do it again, I might try a slightly heavier laser 
printer paper, perhaps some of that resume-grade stuff, just to see if it ended up feeling more 
like antique parchment at the end of the process. 

This document was last generated on 201 2-1 1 -03 01 :43:02 AM. 

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